If there’s one thing I love to do, it’s talk about Neil Gaiman’s iconic comic series, The Sandman. Unfortunately, most of my friends are useless and have never read it. I’ve tried to get them to read it, of course, but very few have actually made the attempt.
The Sandman is a long story. It’s nearly 2,000 pages long, all told, and even though its comic book trappings make it a faster read than most books, it is still quite an undertaking to read from beginning to end. Unlike most comics, The Sandman was written to have a proper ending, and so it doesn’t lose itself in the myriad of regular comic book storytelling failures. There is a continuity in the universe and story being presented. Characters aren’t re-written with a need to draw in new readers, or to pull lapsed readers back into the fold. No one is killed to sell a few extra copies of an issue or drive up its projected future value.
I’m not trying to rag on comics. I enjoy a good Batman story, and I have more than a few X-Men trade paperbacks. But while each of these stories is largely self-contained, The Sandman is not. Over the course of a eight years, The Sandman told a single story: that of Dream, a member of The Endless. The Endless are personifications of strong aspects in their universe: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. They oversee the domains they are named for, and at the same time define the opposite. For example, Dream maintains The Dreaming, a vast world where the consciousness of all beings go while they sleep. He separates reality from fantasy.
Dream has collected many names and titles for himself. To many, he is called Morpheus. The ancient Greeks called him Oneiros, and an even older African tribe called him Kai’ckul. The residents of one woman’s dreams call him Murphy. Creatures of Faerie call him Lord Shaper.
The recent release of The Sandman: Overture has sparked within me a desire to go back and re-examine my favorite story. I often find myself reading bits and pieces of it throughout the course of the year, but I never really delve too deeply into it. Now, I’m going to. Because this is such a long entry, I'm splitting it into two parts. Expect the next five very soon!
10. Death: The High Cost of Living
It wouldn’t be out of line to say that Death is actually the most popular character in The Sandman universe. She’s certainly a lot more fun that her brother. Presented as a spunky young goth woman, Death is kind and for the most part very laid back. Few people are happy to see her when she comes calling, but no one can say no to her.
Death: The High Cost of Living is a short miniseries focused on the fact that Death spends one day every hundred years as a mortal, to better understand her task. In The High Cost of Living, she becomes Didi, a young woman whose family died in a car accident. She befriends Sexton, a young man filled with ennui. It is a beautiful tale of the sometimes-ephemeral nature of life, friendship, and feelings. It also taught me the wonderful French term “L’esprit d’escalier.”
9. Rose Walker
On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much to Rose Walker. She’s pretty, and clever, but a bit detached. Of course, there is more to Rose Walker than meets the eye. She plays a minor role in several events over the course of The Sandman. She is tied to “weird shit,” as she calls it, though she isn't sure why. Unbeknownst to her, Rose is the grandchild of Desire, who created her for the sole purpose of destroying Morpheus. Even after she serves her purpose (or doesn’t, as Desire’s plan fails), the nature of her lineage makes people drawn to her.
Like her grandparent, Rose is fickle and often uncaring. She finally comes of age in The Kindly Ones, when her heart is broken for the first time. She delivers one of my favorite monologues while discussing love with Desire.
8. The Devil Quits and Becomes a Lounge Performer
In the fourth chapter of The Sandman, Seasons of Mists, things take a shocking turn. Lucifer decides he is tired of being the liege of Hell, and hands the key over to Morpheus. It is not a kind act, and the Devil does not suddenly become a good person. He simply grew tired of being everyone’s go-to villain, and decided to be done with it.
Several chapters later, in The Kindly Ones, Lucifer has set up one of the most popular lounges in LA. He has a penchant for performing just the right songs for the audience, though they may not always realize it at the time.
7. The Cereal Convention
One of the most delightfully disturbing things I have ever read, a “cereal” convention takes place during the The Doll’s House, the second chapter of The Sandman. Except it isn’t about a bowl of milk and flakes in the morning. It’s a convention for “collectors” — serial killers. The attendees matter-of-factly discuss their urges and their techniques, have panel discussions on how to proceed if captured and gender equality, and even hold a dance. Collectors like Fun Land and The Doctor are particularly frightening.
6. Hob Gadling
Hob first appears during Men of Good Fortune, a side story during The Doll’s House. Dream and Death visit a pub in 1389, and come upon him. He is insisting to his friends that death is merely something one goes along with, and that, if one is judicious, it needs never happen. Although she is not normally one to play such games, Death decides to grant the man his wish, and lets him live well beyond his years.
Dream and Hob agree to meet every hundred years. They meet at the same pub every time, the environment constantly evolving, as Hob tells Dream what he’s been up to for the previous century. Hob’s life is filled with ups and downs, but he never sinks so low as to want to end it. Even at his worst, he says “Death’s a mug’s game. I got so much to live for.”
Hob appears in four other chapters, twice to meet with Dream for a drink, and twice in wonderful side stories.